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Banksy Opens ‘Walled Off Hotel’ Promoting ‘Conflict Tourism’

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on March 14, 2017 at 01:08 PM

Are we talking about a hotel that offers a view of conflict-asserting concrete dividers instead of scenic oceans, of strife-ridden territory in place of misty mountainous terrain? Is that even inviting? Well, that is precisely what this Mediterranean hotel offers – “the worst view in the world”! Yes, we are talking about provocative and elusive British graffiti artist Banksy’s latest project – The ‘Walled Off Hotel’ in Bethlehem, West bank, Palestine. Having made a publicly renowned career out of secretly painting graffiti over walls in various cities in the dead of the night for people to wake up to awareness of social ills that surround them, Banksy’s complete true identity remains a mystery. But, he has already taken his artistic form of protest to the next level by way of this hotel in the heart of the world’s oldest and most permanently conflicted region. ‘If you don’t like it, paint over it’, he always urges, and that is exactly what he has done to conflict besieged Bethlehem.

© Courtesy of internet resources

The near-mythical Bethlehem we imagine with reference to the story of Christmas is an idyllic village with little huts scattered around under a star-lit sky approached by travellers riding on mules. Joseph and Mary also came to take refuge here for their son, the son of God, to be born in a manger. The town of Bethlehem as it exists today is a far cry from that tiny village, congested as it is with buildings both medieval and modern lining its narrow streets and wide squares clogged with ubiquitous traffic. But, refugees form a considerable portion of the population even today as the town has always been and looks like it always will be at the centre of conflict. Tourism being the main economic activity here owing to the town featuring prominently in the shared religious history of Christianity, Judaism and Islam alike, Bethlehem has lodges and hotels, big and small, where tourists wishing to visit places of religious significance as the Church of the Nativity or Manger Square stay.

A 25 ft. high concrete wall that snakes its way around much of the town, dividing it from its sister city of Jerusalem, is a grim reminder of the perennial conflict that one can’t wish away. Peace protagonists and anti-war activists have expressed their displeasure by covering this wall in protesting graffiti, and so also has Banksy. He undertook this project around 2005 when he is supposed to have painted around nine graffiti images on the wall and several others in different parts of the city and the region. One of the most poignant of these images is that of a white dove of peace welcoming visitors with an olive branch, but dressed in a bullet proof vest alluding to the constantly threatened status of peace here.

 Seemingly not satisfied with these artistic efforts at drawing attention to the problem, Banksy has taken upon himself the task of forcefully driving home the fact of the futility of strife by showcasing its ill-boding images in his new venture, “The Walled Off Hotel”. This modest sized lodging of nine rooms, most of them with a view of the wall, faces, and therefore squarely addresses, the contentious, divisive wall – what he refers to while advertising the place as “the worst view in the world”.

The British colonial style that most of its interior and exterior décor assumes is an acknowledgement of the significance of British presence in the region around the beginning of the 20th century. There is, in fact, a mock-up wax statue of the signing of the Balfour Declaration in 1917 through which the British enabled the formation of Israel as a native homeland for the Jews on lands so far occupied by Palestine. Even the doorman at the entrance accompanied by the statue of a liveried chimp handling world war era luggage bear the stamp of colonial insignia.

The rooms, lobby and dining areas all are used as display spaces for pacifist and anti-war graffiti, art and sculpture. One of the most attractive suites in the hotel is the Banksy room where the wall above the king-sized bed bears his painting of a Palestinian and an Israeli locked in combat, albeit with pillows. Some walls in a special gallery room display surveillance cameras lined up like taxidermic hunting trophies along with pick-axes and sling shots among other weapons. The same room has a chandelier of suspended winged cherubs breathing from oxygen masks and a female Greek bust seeming choked by the surrounding smoke from a tear gas shell.

One can find different styles of treatment within the framework of this décor, like the Presidential Suite which has a look of Retro-chic. While the primary focus of the place is to make the guests face the ironic, ugly and futile exercise that the region’s conflict is, it also has the responsibility to ensure the comfort and convenience of the guests in some measure of luxury. So, the art doesn’t simply hang on the walls here, but also permeates to the balance between art and comfort, socio-political awareness and aesthetic décor that has so delicately been achieved at ‘The Walled Off Hotel’.

Having officially opened on 11th March, the hotel will start receiving guests from the 20th of this month; for as little as $ 30 a night, and, while it hopes to attract and host travellers from all over the world, it particularly welcomes young Palestinians who have this strife ingrained in them from an infant stage to come and look at their world from a different perspective. At a time when building more walls is an idea starting to alarmingly catch on elsewhere in the world, one can only wish all good business and much more to this frontrunner of the tourism of conflict, or rather, of anti-divisive tourism!

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